Tag Archives: farmers market

End of Summer Casserole

Hello, anxiety, my old friend.  So you’ve come to pay me a visit.  Sit down.  Have a cup of tea (It’s herbal—neither of us needs any extra caffeine).  Will you be staying long?

Life is full right now.  My head is full.  Too much to think about, work is nutty, lists swirl in my head like dust devils, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day for everything I want to accomplish.

And when I’m feeling stressed, I don’t tend to cook very interesting things.  Meals are reduced to a formula: Big vegetable, medium protein, small carb.  Shuffle those cards again for the next meal.  Bonus points for cooking enough to last for three days.

Finally, after a very long week, I got my tuckus down to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning (and let me clarify that by morning I mean noon) for some hard core therapy.   I guess you could call it retail therapy, but with vegetables instead of shoes.

The sun came out and did magical things to piles of bumpy winter squash and peppers and sweet corn and potatoes.  The heirloom tomatoes beckoned, then sort of jumped into my bag: one pear-shaped red one with a dark green bump on top, a craggy orange one, an oblong yellow one like a big fat thumb, and a red, perfectly round tomato the size of a baseball.  And there were zucchini the size of those little baseball bats the bad boys used to keep in their cars.

Somehow, by the time I hauled my precious loot to the car, I had regained some perspective.  I was breathing a little more deeply, maybe even smiling.

The end of summer is a time of bounty at the farmer’s market, when the tastes of summer mingle with the flavors of fall.  The ripe produce needs little more than a nudge to become a warm, comforting meal.

This layered casserole does justice to the simple, earthy flavors of fall.  The onions and tomatoes provide sweetness, the zucchini slumps softly, and the potatoes soak up all of the juices but remain pleasantly chewy.  The flavors marry, but retain their own identities in spite of the union.

End of Summer Casserole

(adapted from Whole Living magazine)

  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 medium tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 2 medium potatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tbsp grated pecorino cheese

Heat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.  Heat 2 tbsp oil over medium heat and sauté onion until soft and golden, about 10 minutes.  Spread the onions on the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish.  Overlap tomatoes, potatoes, and zucchini in two layers on top of onions.  Sprinkle with thyme, salt, pepper and pecorino, drizzle with remaining tbsp of olive oil.  Bake covered for 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake until golden, about 40 minutes more.

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Wild Plum Buckle

Plums!  Here it is, plum season.  There can be something a little sad about plums; their appearance in the fall whispers a warning of wet mulchy leaves and frost. But I close my ears to that breath of winter and think only of sweet summer sunshine.

There were so many varieties at the farmer’s market last weekend that I hardly knew just where to turn.  Italian plums, Damson plums, a treasure trove of beauties of every color from deep purply black to pale yellow.  The sign said, “please sample,” and I was just one of a row of samplers savoring the tart-sweet plums.

There was a box of tiny, multicolored wild plums, no bigger than cherries.  They were every color of blush, delicate as a little girl’s cheek.  They looked like a jewel box spilling rubies, citrine, garnets and moonstones.

Years ago, I had a very enlightened boss who would often say to us, “I’ll give you the what, you decide the how.”

I had my what: tiny, perfect plums that I was scooping tenderly into a bag.  Then it was only a matter of deciding the how.  How best to use this gorgeous fruit?  I knew the perfect how would become evident, and after browsing through a few of my cookbooks, it did.

A buckle is a single layer cake that has a lot of fruit in it, giving it a bit of a wrinkled or buckled appearance.  This recipe originally called for huckleberries, but adapted perfectly to small, tart plums.  The cake is moist and dense, a bit tangy from the yogurt, and not overly sweet.  The plum halves hold their shape quite well, studding the cake with their beautiful color and bursts of flavor.

You could call this a coffee cake and serve it for breakfast or brunch without hearing any protests.

 

Wild Plum Buckle

(adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson)

Buckle

  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • ¾ cup plain whole yogurt
  • 3 cups wild plums, halved and pitted

Vanilla Drizzle

  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp whole milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Butter a 9-inch round baking pan.

Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.  Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition, then stir in the vanilla.  Stir in the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the yogurt in two additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.  Gently fold in two cups of the plums.  Spread the mixture into the prepared pan.  Distribute the remaining cup of plums over the cake, cut sides down.

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 20 minutes in the pan before removing to a wire rack and applying the vanilla drizzle.

To make the vanilla drizzle, combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.  Drizzle over the buckle while it is still warm.

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Pod People

Oh, that mushroom guy!  I can’t turn away from his siren song.  Once again, I was walking by his stall at the farmer’s market, minding my own business, intent only on buying a carton of eggs, when I heard him instructing a customer to tear up their mushrooms rather than cutting them, because the uneven edges will produce a more satisfying texture when cooked.

Huh? I swiveled in his direction to listen to the rest of the conversation.  And there, on his table, were containers of completely new mushrooms–ones I’d never seen before.

White fringy pom-pom sort of things, like those fuzzy balls on the back of sports socks back in grade school, but about the size of my fist.

“People say they taste like lobster,” he went on.

I moved in for a closer inspection.  The mushroom guy smiled, his freckle-face as open and friendly as a grown-up boy scout.  “They’re called Lion’s Mane Mushrooms,” he said.

There’s just something about this mushroom vendor and his wares that I cannot resist.  Yes, I love mushrooms.  But it’s more than that.  It’s his earnest, wholesome appearance, like an enterprising young fellow from a 1950’s movie–one who grows mushrooms, sells newspapers, and mows lawns to put himself through college.  It’s also the mild frisson of  science fiction-fueled suspicion that any young man selling weird-looking mushrooms might, just might, be inadvertently working for the alien pod people.  You know, to spread their spores?

Well, if you read old-school sci-fi, you know.   I feel a little shiver of delighted, hopeful fear every time I approach that table.

Anyway, the combination is irresistible.  I came away with a paper bag full of Lion’s Mane mushrooms.

After rinsing them and tearing them up as per instructions, I sautéed the mushrooms in butter and garlic, then liberally salted and peppered.  They had a pleasant, bland flavor, which accepts seasoning well.  While their flavor is not particularly reminiscent of seafood, the texture of the cooked mushrooms is very much like lobster—firm and dense.  Next time, I’d like to sauté them in olive oil and white wine, with a bit of garlic and chili powder.

If you see Lion’s Mane mushrooms for sale in your grocery store or farmer’s market, give them a try.  The risk of colonization by the pod people is relatively low.

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Boys! Raise Giant Mushrooms in your Cellar!

Strolling around the Farmer’s Market the other day, I was done with the essential purchases and soaking up a little sun while contemplating a few extras.  Eggs, chicken, chard, salmon, strawberries—check.   Now how about some cheese and maybe a jar of raspberry jam?

I passed the mushroom vendor a couple of times as I circled, waiting for the crowd in front of the cheese stand to thin out.  A pleasant-faced young man with sandy hair and a hopeful expression, he stood behind a table burgeoning with oyster mushrooms displayed as if they were growing right out of little cardboard fruit boxes.  The air felt a little cooler around that table, as if it brought with it a whiff of dark, damp basement or cool forest glade.  He looked almost young enough to have sent away for his mushroom operation, to an address he found in the back of a comic book, right between the x-ray glasses and the snapping gum.

The mushrooms were perfect.  Firm, pale, abundant oyster mushrooms crowded each branching stalk, ranging in size from baby pinky toes to silver dollars.  I drifted closer and started searching for the biggest clump.  Because it is, after all, one of the chief pleasures of the farmer’s market, I fell into conversation with the vendor.  He grew the mushrooms himself, he said, rather than foraging them.  He’d recently moved, and had to start his mushroom farm over.  Oyster mushrooms were the first crop in his new place because they were the quickest and easiest to grow, but he’d have more kinds available in the fall.  He also sold kits for DIY mushroom farming…by which I was briefly tempted, but managed to walk away with only a paper bag full of already-grown ones.

The preparation for the mushrooms is so simple that I can’t really call it a recipe but more of a method.  But so often, simple is best when it comes to fresh foods.

Wash the mushrooms gently, pat dry, and cut them from the thick middle stalk.  Place them in a skillet over medium heat and sauté dry for a few minutes until they wilt slightly and release some of their moisture.  Add a small slosh of olive oil, a dab of butter, a clove of minced garlic and salt and pepper, raise the heat, and quickly finish sautéing the mushrooms.

The delicate flavor and texture of the oyster mushrooms really shine with this minimalist treatment.  Most often, I eat mushrooms as part of a more complex dish, such as a stir-fry.   But served simply alongside grilled salmon and greens, the mushrooms hold their own quite nicely.  They could also be served over a plate of pasta tossed with olive oil and parmesan.   Or just heap them on a slice of good crusty bread and have them with a glass of white wine for a lightning fast summer weeknight dinner when you are too tired to bother with much else.

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Quack!

Really, in the end, it was because of the picture.  A snapshot of a couple of waddly white duck bottoms sticking out of tall green weeds, where the ducks in question foraged, gilded with a bit of sunshine and looking so busy, so content, just so…right.  I veered through the carnival midway throngs at the farmer’s market, to get a closer look at the picture stuck to the edge of the vendor’s display.  I looked down at the table, and there were stacked cartons of chicken eggs, but also, duck eggs

I’d been curious about duck eggs for what seems like a very long time.  The occasional reference in a cookbook or a picture on a food blog would renew my interest and again I would make a mental note to get some, the very next time I had a chance. I knew that they are bigger than chicken eggs, have a higher fat content, and are often used in baking.  I imagined how rich they must taste, thought that maybe they would be the best eggs ever laid.  Hardly an obsession, not even an idée fixe, just an itchy little seed of curiosity stowed away in the back of my mind.  Intermittently, I remembered to scan the egg case at the co-op, but no duck eggs presented themselves.  Just as intermittently, I mentioned the duck egg itch to Michael, who has perfected the art of noncommittal, diplomatic responses to these sorts of things. 

But I guess it was also the spring sunshine that did it.  Because it turns out that unlike chickens, ducks only lay eggs in the spring.  And now, there they were!  The vendor caught my eye and smiled.  “Can I help you?”  she asked.  I nearly threw caution to the wind and bought an entire dozen, but they were eight dollars a carton, after all.  So I tucked a half dozen into my bag, nearly skipping with glee as I re-entered the flow of shoppers and made my way to the kombucha vendor.

“Guess what I got?”  I asked later, unloading my shopping bag over at Michael’s place.  “I’ll give you a hint.  DUCK EGGS!”  I did a little happy dance.  “I thought you could scramble them.”

And, kind man, he duly scrambled them for breakfast the very next morning.  They were a little larger than our usual chicken eggs, but not freakishly so.  The shells were notably stronger, however.  The duck eggs scrambled up into big, firm curds.  They smelled distinctly different, too…they were eggs, but more so. 

And the taste…what of the taste?  The otherness of these eggs was most apparent in the first few bites.  The dense texture made for an odd mouth feel at first, and the flavor could only be described as wild—a little gamy edge superimposed over the construct of egg flavor as I knew it.  Not bad, not the best eggs ever laid, just different. 

By the time we polished off our breakfast, I was pretty much used to them.  I took the remaining two eggs home and ate them for breakfast over the next few days. 

Will I seek out another carton of duck eggs?  Probably not for breakfast, but I’d like to put them to the test in baking someday. 

It is strange for me, this muted reaction to a food I’d been excited to try.  I suspect that there is a lesson here somewhere, something about one’s reach exceeding their grasp, or the grass being greener, or the road less travelled.  Or perhaps the duck eggs are a Rorschach test, saying more about the eater than the egg.  All I can say with certainty is that there will surely be another MacGuffin to drive the story forward, another object of desire sparkling just out of sight, over that next hill. 

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